The only noise a homeowner wants to hear from their pipes is the gentle trickling as you turn on the tap. Far from being an annoying quirk of your plumbing, noisy pipes can be a symptom of some potentially serious problems.
Here’s what the most common noises are and what they mean.
Banging and Hammering
If you hear a thump coming from your pipes, the chances are good that you’re experiencing a water hammer.
Otherwise known as hydraulic shock, a water hammer is caused by a sudden surge in pressure as the water stops or changes direction abruptly. The most likely cause is a valve suddenly closing or a pump losing power.
Water is uncompressible, so the sudden change ripples through at the speed of sound and bashes into your pipes and valves with great force, creating the distinctive banging sound.
What Damage Can It Do
While you might not think water within your system could do much harm, when you consider the potential speed and pressure, the damage can be extensive. Some potential problems include:
• Damage to pumps and flow systems
• Popped joints and fittings
• Ruptured pipes
Any of these problems can happen with a single shockwave but all become more likely the more often your system experiences the shock.
Gurgling And Bubbling
A gurgling noise likely indicates that there’s a blockage in the system and the water is struggling to get through. The most likely place that you’ll hear this noise is your drain.
Food, grease and all the other bits and pieces which find their way into your drains are all potential sources of blockages, but it could also be an air pocket which has formed where it shouldn’t have.
It could also be a problem down the line- a blockage in the sewer pipe or an issue with the vents.
What Damage Can It Do?
Left unattended, blockages will worsen over time. Eventually, you might be faced with a sink, toilet or bath that won’t drain at all, and that’s no use to anyone.
Whistling and Squealing
A high pitched whistle or squeal is most likely caused by something restricting the flow of water within a pipe or the failure of a valve. Either way, it needs investigation.
Water supplies contain all kinds of impurities. Mostly, they’re harmless but given enough time they can build up and coat the insides of our pipes. Eventually, this can lead to a restriction in the flow of water- creating a distinctive whistling noise as it squeezes past the blockage.
If the sound is coming from a fitting or a valve the chances are good that something has failed. Washers wearing out is the most likely issue here.
What damage can it do?
If your whistling is caused by a blockage you’ll likely be experiencing a drop in pressure further along your plumbing system. This is annoying but harmless in all but the most extreme circumstances.
If it’s emanating from a valve, it’s potentially a bit more worrying. Valves allow you to control the flow of water to various parts of your plumbing. When one fails, you lose that control. Should you need to do any repairs from that valve onwards, it becomes a lot trickier.
Rumbling or Popping
The most likely place to hear rumbling and popping noises is your water heater. It’s almost certainly caused by a build-up of sediment or limescale.
Impurities in our water supply (especially in “hard water” areas) build up over time and can cause sediment to form in your tank.
That sediment can cause water trapped within it to boil and create the disturbing noises.
What Damage Can It Do?
Luckily, sedimentary build-up in a water heater is unlikely to cause much real damage.
It does make your hot water system a lot less efficient though and should be dealt with if you value your energy bills remaining reasonable!
Vibrating or Shuddering
Perhaps the most disturbing thing any plumbing system can do is shake. Vibrations and shuddering is a sure sign that something is seriously wrong.
If your pipes have an extended run that’s not been properly supported with suitable clips and brackets the force of water moving through them can make them shake. Likewise, water flowing too quickly can have the same effect.
What Damage Can it Do?
Pipes which vibrate and shake can lead to some serious damage to the rest of your property and should be properly investigated as soon the problem is noticed.
Left unattended, it’s only a matter of time before a joint or fitting comes loose and causes a serious leak. If this doesn’t get caught quickly, serious structural damage is a very distinct possibility.
When To Worry And What To Do
While sounds emanating from your plumbing are never a good sign, it’s not necessarily always a cause for panic.
Some sounds may be annoying but they’re not something to lose sleep over. Routine maintenance such as flushing the tank during an annual check-up should sort them.
Likewise, if you experience a one-off whistling or hammering and there’s no sign of a leak, the chances are good that you have some time to identify and fix the problem before it becomes serious.
However, if the sound is persistent, recurring or you can’t work out where it’s coming from, then it’s time to consult a professional.
Preventative Measures and Maintenance
While it can be tempting to not poke your pipes too hard until there’s a serious issue to deal with, regular maintenance can prevent serious problems developing in the first place.
An annual plumbing check-up from a professional plumber is always a good idea. They can do things like check water pressure and flush your water heater, stopping problem pipes in their tracks.
While noisy pipes can be a potential problem, a little knowledge and professional help can help quiet your fears.